Like other Japanese American families in the Beacon Hill area of Seattle, 16-year-old Dan Inagaki's parents expect him to be an example of the model minority. But unlike Dan's older brother, with his 4.0 GPA and Ivy League scholarship, Dan is tired of being called Oriental by his teachers, and sick of feeling invisible; Dan's growing self-hatred threatens his struggle to claim an identity. Sharing his anger and confusion are his best friends, Jerry Ito, Eddie Kanagae, and Frank Ishimoto, and together these Beacon Hill Boys fall into a spiral of rebellion that is all too all-American.
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Set in Seattle's Beacon Hill area in 1972, Mochizuki's (Baseball Saved Us) provocative novel focuses on four Japanese-American friends, all high school juniors. The narrator, Dan Inagaki, and his parents seem locked onto a collision course. His parents can't understand why Dan isn't more like his clean-cut older brother, Brad, a star athlete and straight-A student headed for Stanford; Dan and his friends think Brad is a "Banana" ("yellow on the outside, white on the inside"). For his part, Dan can't understand why his parents refuse to discuss their past, particularly the Japanese-American internment camps, and why they expect him to conform and not make trouble (one of his father's favorite proverbs is "The nail that sticks up the highest gets hit the hardest"). But where Dan's friend Eddie rebels by trying to act "black" and another friend by being "The Bad Boy," Dan earns a high profile by lobbying (successfully) for the creation of a comparative American cultures class and for some books in the school library "to teach history from [another] point of view." Mochizuki evokes the period well-Dan and his peers worry about the Vietnam War; a young Filipino teacher tells Dan, "What you're doing is really right on." While the novel will be of particular interest to readers who share Dan's ethnic and cultural heritage, the author's understanding of teen conflicts and the need to forge an individual identity should resonate with a broader audience. Ages 14-up.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Grade 8 Up-As a second-generation Japanese-American during the early 1970s, Dan Inagaki wears his teen spirit like a hair shirt. He is hungry for personal and cultural identity within the minority-rich mix of his Seattle high school. He craves to understand and lay claim to past hardships that his parents experienced but won't discuss. His day-to-day high school life is a series of half-hearted beginnings that fall flat. Filled with discontent, Dan hangs with a group of on-the-fringe kids who struggle with their families' murky place in society. His father's silence about the internment camps only piques his curiosity. Meanwhile, the head of the history department states, "I don't care about any Japanese history. We only teach American history around here." Yet when the Black Student Union begins its lobbying efforts, a Band-Aid Comparative American cultures class is added to the curriculum. Instead of rallying the troops, Dan seems to shut down and is confused by his parents' attempts at becoming an "All American" family. A rambling plot diminishes the effect of an otherwise authentic portrayal. Events are slow going, indicative of the lifestyle of a floundering '70s teen. After all the troubles of Dan's daily life, the ending is too neat and tidy. His personal revelations are a fizzle, leaving him (and readers) still hungry for stories from his father's day.
Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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